Cop22 will be judged a success if it promotes the SDGs alongside the climate agenda, observers say

It has been a little over a year since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all over the next 15 years. And it’s been 11 months since 196 nations signed the Paris Agreement climate change agreement, which came into force in record time on 4 November. At the Cop22 climate summit this month in Marrakech, the pressure was on world leaders to come up with an implementation plan for both of these landmark agreements.

Both call on the private sector to play a large role in advancing their agendas. But whether the SDGs and the climate deal are sufficiently converging to seize shared momentum remains uncertain.

The two agreements were created on parallel tracks without a formal connection between their designated international processes: namely, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While there is a specific SDG on climate change (SDG 13), it simply refers to the UNFCCC as the primary forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

The real test for both agendas is the extent to which they spur action by non-governmental actors, including businesses, writes Leo Horn-Phathanothai,director for international cooperation at the World Resources Institute in a recent report. “The SDGs and climate commitments cannot be successfully delivered in isolation from one another. A key implementation challenge will be to foster synergistic solutions where the two agendas meet.”

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson agreed when he told participants at World Water Week in Stockholm in September: “The 2030 Agenda and the Climate Agreement are ground-breaking, ambitious and transformational. They are to be seen together, reflecting the interdependent relationship between peace, development and human rights.”

Jan Eliasson at World Water Week in Stockholm
Image Credit: Thomas Henrikson

‘Unwieldy’ SDGs

Managing both these ambitious agendas is a huge undertaking; considering their interlinkages can be even more daunting. The SDGs have been criticised for being aspirational without any mandatory requirement for countries to see them through, unlike the legally binding agreements contained in the Paris Agreement. And the 17 goals and 169 targets are seen by some as impossibly unwieldy and thus difficult to achieve.

“There is an intersection between the two agreements but whether they are sufficiently integrated in terms of implementation I’m not sure,” says Professor David Griggs, former director of the Monash Sustainability Development Institute and a leading figure in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “If we don’t solve goal 13 [climate action], we don’t solve any of the SDGs. Understandably, governments didn’t want climate mitigation targets in both the SDGs and in the COP agreement, so the SDGs are not specific on climate mitigation, leaving that to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement now has specific climate targets but I’m not so sure how these will be integrated into SDG implementation.

Yet a number of private sectors leaders are embracing both agendas, recognising that a sustainable, climate-resilient future carries opportunities as well as challenges.  

One of these is Netafim, the world’s leader in irrigation systems, which wants to drive mass adoption of drip irrigation to fight scarcity of water, land and food. Netafim has made the SDGs an integral part of its sustainability strategy. In fact, says Naty Barak, chief sustainability officer for Netafim, “Our business is sustainability.”

Drip irrigation can help to fight scarcity of water, land and food
Image Credit: Max Lindenthaler

Drip irrigation has significant environmental and other sustainability benefits over flood irrigation but is a relatively new industry, he says, so putting its work in the framework of the SDGs helps to get its mission across. In Barak’s view, the 17 SDGs — and in particular nine of them — are integrally linked to Netafim’s business, for instance, helping subsistence farmers become commercial farmers contributes to ending poverty; increasing agricultural productivity helps tackle hunger; empowering the many women who are responsible for agriculture in developing countries supports gender equality. At the same time, Netafim has been active in the climate negotiations and was among the business voices in Paris.

“We want to harness both initiatives and directions for our business. I think the private sector has a very important role in implementing both the SDGs and the Paris agreement,” says Barak, adding that he believes both Paris and the SDGs will create momentum for a strong outcome at COP22. “I think the world is realising this is a must.”

Joining the dots

That kind of joined-up thinking is an absolute necessity, says Professor Doreen Stabinsky, professor of Global Environmental Politics at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. She also serves as advisor to a number of governments and international NGOs on issues related to agriculture and loss and damage in ongoing negotiations under the UNFCCC.

“If we really want to keep to the Paris goal of staying below 2 Celsius warming, then we pretty much need economies not based on fossil fuels by 2050. That’s a profound transformation. I don’t think our leaders have come to grips with that yet,” Stabinsky says. “The SDGs help us visualise the broader objectives that will carry us through that transformation. COP22 will be the nuts and bolts of Paris, but the global commitment to sustainable development, as expressed in the SDGs, is the context of the climate agreement.”

And the role of the private sector will be as critical as every other stakeholder group in making that transformation, she adds.

“Both the SDGs and the climate agreement are the work of all of us. If the private sector hasn’t bought into that agenda and isn’t helping to deliver on it, we won’t get there. It’s important for those companies on the leading edge to push the boundaries of the role companies are playing in sustainable development.”

As world leaders hammer out their implementation plans for the Paris Agreement in Marrakesh, connecting the dots of the 2030 Agenda and the climate agenda can lead to a better, more cohesive and comprehensive outcome. A clear roadmap on climate underpins all the goals and targets of the SDGs.

For instance, the Paris Agreement calls for cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in energy, transport, industry, agriculture, and forestry. These correspond to SDG 7 (energy), SDG 11 (cities), SDG 9 (industrialisation), SDG 2 (agriculture), and SDG 15 (forests). It also looks for cooperation on biomass, forests and oceans, and other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems, linking to SDG 14 (oceans, seas and marine resources) and SDG 15 (terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification, land degradation and biodiversity). Other synergies are evident, especially in shaping the low-carbon strategies that are integral to low-emission and climate-resilient development.

“2015 was a big year for thinking about the global commitment to sustainable development, and now, in 2016, it’s time to act on that commitment,” says Stabinsky. “We’re at a critical turning point and it’s all hands on deck.”

The Paris Agreement calls for cooperation to cut greenhouse gases
Image Credit: dicovod
Main Image Credit: Migel


COP22  SDGs  climate  United Nations  World Resource Institute  Climate Agreement  climate change  greenhouse gases 

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